My husband pointed out that Charlotte, N.C.-based author Kevin Keck probably went through junior high unaware of the “Keck me” signs surreptitiously taped to his back. And little in Keck’s new book, Are You There, God? It’s Me. Kevin.: A Memoir (Bloomsbury, 2008) dispels the idea. Keck, the character, is disturbed. A pot-smoking, masturbating germaphobe, living with his parents at age 26.
But the book, slated for release on Tuesday, Feb. 5, is good. Squirm-inducing, overly revealing and not very pretty, but good. “New Year’s Eve 1999,” begins the opening chapter. “It was three in the morning, and I was parked at a gas station in Scranton, Pennsylvania, checking my temperature with a rectal thermometer.”
I once heard about a literary agent who wouldn’t consider any book that began in a car or with the narrator waking up. I wonder what she’d think of book beginning with a rectal thermometer. Not much a writer can do to top that, though Keck makes a valiant effort. The author, an essayist and poet, is oft-compared to that other N.C.-born master of discomfiture, David Sedaris. Keck’s best-known work is the 2005 essay collection, Oedipus Wrecked (Cleis Press).
Are You There God? It’s Me. Kevin, it’s title cleverly borrowed from the Judy Blume tween classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is likely to be a hit with fans of the self-effacing memoir trend carried by the likes of Sedaris, Augusten Burroughs, , Ellen Hopkins, James Salant
and Lisa Crystal Carver. And though, at times, Kevin gets a little too personal — something akin to having a conversation on a Greyhound bus with someone who isn’t familiar with a toothbrush and really wants to share his life story. “I sifted through my vomit for portions of pills, found half of an undigested Percocet, and popped it in my mouth,” he writes.
But Kevin also possesses moments of insight and simple grace. Of his gandfather’s passing, Keck writes, “My uncle was sitting at his bedside when he sat up and began to reach for the blinds as though trying to open them. My uncle did it for him, letting in the last brilliant rays off sun. My uncle said, ‘Dad, do you want to play some cards?’
My grandfather said, ‘Yes.’ And then he was dead.
Maybe it’s just me, but I find that anecdote so pure and sweet. Evidence, surely, that Keck has more to offer the world than rectal thermometers and puke. Then again, maybe the world wants full confession of the aforementioned. After all, readers can’t seem to get enough of the teen junky stories filling up bookshelves. Scan the recent releases and the titles seem endless: Methed Up, Tweaked, I Am Not Myself These Days: A Memoir and Candy: A Novel of Love and Addiction. Even if it’s not drug related, we love the car-wreck of a tell-all: Fish: A Memoir of a Boy in a Man’s Prison, Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir and Lessons In Taxidermy all have their fan bases. Lest anyone forget, the reading public was livid to learn that James Fry fabricated parts of his book, A Million Little Pieces — though the media frenzy around that snafu did little to dampen Fry’s career.
So, why do we like memoirs that reveal more than is decent? That’s my question. Will Keck’s over-divulgence later harm his career (perhaps the literary version of going all the way on the first date)? The book — not even yet in stores — is on the front page of this week’s Creative Loafing, so there’s buzz. Buzz is good.
Now, tell us what you think.